Year of the paywall, once again?
“Don’t forget 2013 is the year of Paid Content,” read the seasons greetings message from Piano Media. Some in the US, where more than 300 papers now have some kind of digital subscription model, might argue that the year of the paywall has been and gone.
But in Europe and the rest of the world, paid-for web content - aside from PDF replicas and mobile apps – is still relatively rare. Piano Media, which operates subscriptions to multiple news providers in Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland, is hoping to change that.
And even in the US, most paywalls are still too new to have truly proven themselves as effective. Will 2013 see evidence that betting on digital reader revenue is paying off?
Innovations in advertising
Traditional banner-style advertising just isn’t making enough money online for news organisations, and if advertising is going to continue to be a key part publishers’ income it is going to have to evolve.
In 2013, we hope to see more innovative advertising that truly takes advantage of the potential of digital publishing to offer both compelling advertising experiences and effective lead generation, sending readers directly to stores, travel agents and other services.
As distasteful as some might find it, the prevalence of sponsored editorial content might well grow in 2013, as publishers seek ways to offer brands something more. It has proved successful for an organisation like Buzzfeed, whose creative ad team works in a similar way to the editorial team to produce massively sharable content which, although clearly labeled as brand-sponsored, is very similar in feel to the rest of the site.
Mobile first newsrooms
Mobile internet usage – on both smartphones and tablets – will continue to grow and we can hope that news organisations will continue to adapt to this and prioritise mobile in their newsroom workflow, at the most effective times of day.
The best-known tablet-only publication, News Corp’s The Daily, has been closed, but is there a future for mobile-only news content producers?
As different types of mobile devices continue to multiply, it becomes harder for all but the biggest news organisations to keep up with building sophisticated native offers for each.
Responsive and adaptive design – which make websites suitable to view on different sizes of screens – have been welcomed as a life-saver for those who want a single solution to the problem. (A website with adaptive design will detect the device on which it is being loaded and deliver the optimal version of the site for the display, while responsive design delivers the whole website and allows the device to adapt the display according to the browser dimensions.)
The Boston Globe was one of the first papers to integrate responsive design, and the Guardian is one of the latest. We can expect that many more news outlets will adopt responsive or adaptive design as a solution that can quickly accommodate new platforms, while givin them time to decide to target particular devices with native apps.
More exciting visual story-telling
In an age of intense digital competition, where similar content is being offered by many different providers, the news-reading experience can become almost as important as the news itself in persuading readers to stay.
A recent piece from The New York Times, ‘Snow Fall,’ which punctuates text with large moving pictures, video, and infographics, in an app-like design, is indicative of new opportunities. “I've never seen a better design for any story online. It sets a new standard, in my opinion,” said Jay Rosen on Facebook.
More and more newspapers are likely to expand their experiments with video, both because video news has the potential to give them new audiences at new times of day, and because video advertising is proving to be lucrative. Expect to see a couple of traditional text-based outlets providing enough video news to compete with broadcasters.
Social media: monetisation and more
This year’s XMA Cross Media Awards for social media only saw three competitors for the ‘Monetisation’ prize, compared with dozens in other categories, which is indicative of a lack of progress in this area.
Until now many news publishers have been content to focus on building up their audiences on social media platforms but we can expect many in 2013 and beyond to concentrate on more concrete plans to make the most of their increasingly large numbers of fans and followers, whether through direct monetisation initiatives, or greater efforts to tap into the knowledge of their readers.